Protect Spring Plantings When Cold Returns

It’s that time of year when the sun finally comes out and temperatures go up, allowing you to get some outdoor planting done. But beware the fickle Chicago spring.

Perfect gardening days are sometimes followed by colder temperatures that can wreak havoc on your newly installed containers or new plants.  Here are some of the things that the home gardener may want to do to protect plants.

  • Move containers inside. If you’ve started to create containers for your back porch or balcony that contain summer crops, bring them inside. Even an uninsulated shed offers more protection than none.
     
  • Use mulch around your plants or your seedlings. You can also water vegetables that you may have planted. The ice will form on the outside of the leaf, rather than on the plant tissue itself.

  • Not all containers are easy to relocate indoors. Senior horticulturist Heather Sherwood covers containers that can’t be moved. If you were planning on just disposing of your empty soil bags, reuse them this way to protect your containers instead. Sherwood also recommends covering plants with old bedding, especially fitted sheets. They fit snugly around the bottom of the containers and keep out the cold air.

  • If you do cover your containers, it may be helpful to prop up the covering with bamboo poles. The covering shouldn’t touch the plants, because it can weigh down and crush any leaves or fresh blooms. And if the temperatures drop too low, the covering can freeze to the plant and damage it. Circulation is always good, so give your plants “breathing room” if you cover them.

  • Leave some plants alone. Some flowers don’t need your fretting. Pansies will likely withstand colder temperatures. Daffodils and tulips, some of which haven’t even emerged yet, will probably also be fine. Focus your efforts on protecting the more vulnerable flowers and let the hardy ones tough out the cold.

  • Protect the containers. Your plants won’t stand a chance if you don’t also protect the containers you’ve planted them in. If you use terra cotta pots, keep them dry in cold temperatures. If they’re wet and then freeze, cracks can form. Containers made from fiberglass and plastic will degrade over time if they’re in direct sunlight, so check these for damage and move inside if you’re unsure of their durability. Your reused containers will last much longer if you have stored them out of the elements over winter. (Make a mental note for next winter.)

You can use soil bags to lightly cover container plantings when frost threatens.

Heavier frost blankets provide an extra level of protection.

 

Contact Plant Information at the Garden at plantinfo@chicagobotanic.org with any questions.

 

Published: 
April 19, 2021
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